Getting over "Uncreativity" - Why and how you can finally get started on that creative project

You know how the old saying goes – if I could get a dollar for every time someone tells me <insert common phrase here>… It’s a different phrase for each of us. For me? It’s usually these two:

  • I want to create but I’m not good enough!

  • I’m not a creative person but I really want to do this!

Or just the above phrases in different variations.

If you can remember or just listen closely, these phrases are especially common after the person in question:

  • Consumes a story via film, television, radio, on the Internet, or print

  • Goes through their birthdays, Christmas, or any festival which represents renewal, feeling like they haven’t done anything

  • Receives a nice home-made / constructed / personalized gift

For those who find themselves on the verge of wanting to create something, but always have this feeling holding you back, you might want to carry on reading.

This post cannot promise that it will miraculously transform you into Neil Gaiman, Satoshi Tajiri, Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor, or even that local, rising creative star from your neighbourhood. But I can and will share how my friends and I fought against those excuses (yes, excuses) and won, creating our own stories, comics, podcasts, what-have-yous.

Still here? Let’s go then.

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There is Always a ‘Reason’

Let’s get the devil out of the way – all the ‘reasons’ we give to not create even though we ‘really, really want to’? They’re unfortunately, most of the time, called excuses.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are some common factors that come into play when we want to create – and some quick initial hacks to help you with this hurdle:

Disclaimer: I’m responding to the following phrases from my own experience as a fiction writer, and from the perspective of creators who deal primarily in storytelling through various mediums (mostly print).

I have no time – I have a full-time job, a family, kids, and chores to settle!

First, let me borrow Charles Bukowski’s poem as linked here. So if you’re going to create – create. Waiting for the ideal time and space and light and air is a myth.

Now that that’s out of the way…

When I started thinking about posts for this blog, I was thinking about the people who will benefit from having a more creative life. While I was highly tempted to say – everyone, it seems that many who have raised this issue of wanting to create but are unable to do so give me this reason.

So secondly, know that creating doesn’t need to be a one-shot activity. Can’t spend half a day writing? Try your lunch hour? How about half an hour before you “wake up”? 15 minutes on your phone while you commute?

If you want to create, you will find the time.

Thirdly, communication is key with the people around you. Don’t expect them to bend over backwards for you, but it’ll help if you have a rough plan in mind.

For example – Asking your parents for Sunday afternoons off so that you can work on a project for a couple of months, or telling your partner that you would like to spend the first 15 minutes of your commute to work typing or recording ideas or passages on your phone.

You don’t have to be alone in your creative journey.  

I want to create but I’m not a creative person.

This is a bit of a toughie to get over.

Though this is not my one-off solution to every person who claims that they are not creative, I’d admit that the comic panels below have helped many friends with their self-doubt, artists or otherwise. (Comic Credit: Max Loh)

That being said, while we may believe that we’re not creative people, we all have a story within us.

If you’d like to create but fear that you don’t have the creativity escribed to other creative people you see around, fear not. Just go with the story you want to tell or scene you want to replicate first.

The only way to convince yourself that you’re not creative is if you never tried in the first place. That, or try to answer this question: If I’m not creative, why do I have a story / project in my head? With the want to create?

I’m not like <insert established artist>!

Of course! You’re like yourself, are you not?

At the risk of sounding like an online guru, no one is like any of the prominent artists or creators we see on mass media. In light of massive development and globalization, it’s easy to make the exception the rule.

So yes, point is – you can and will always create like yourself. Sure, you’ll be influenced by what you consume, but the success of others is no reason to stop yourself from creating if that’s something you want to do.

Again, easier said than done. Perhaps this question can help: If you’re not like <insert established artist>, then why do you still have this urge or want to create?

For what? No one’s going to see or like it anyway.

There’s a common misconception that when we want to create, it should always be for a public audience. If you’re a person who just wants to write stories in your private journals to enjoy later on, that’s fine too.

When you want to create, you should do so because you want to, or create something that you will enjoy or appreciate first and foremost. If you cannot tell your own stories, how are you going to tell them to others?

If you’re creating with the intention of building an audience (apart from other reasons), then you might have to re-examine the type of audiences you’re like to appeal to. While defining your audience can be a separate blog post on its own, you are not going to have an audience until you create something for the audience.

So whether you want to create for yourself or to build an audience, the approach is still the same – start creating first. At least a little bit.

I’m a very private person, I don’t need to create.

And you’re right – it’s okay if you don’t want to create. However, if you constantly have that urge to tell a story (regardless of medium) to an audience, and you find yourself always saying, “I want to create but…”, how are you going to assuage these thoughts?

As mentioned above, creating should be for yourself first and foremost. Just create for yourself, then.

I’ll get to it when I retire.

Again, you’re right – it’s good to set a timeline for when you’d like to get to creating. But like I mentioned, you don’t have to wait if you have the urge to tell a story or create some kind of illustration.

And again, the question posed will be – If not now, then when?   

Creating – What are you willing to trade up?

So after all the quick responses to some of the many reasons people give, you will notice that there is a pattern when it comes to adding new activity or creation to your already-busy lives.

KNOWING YOUR PRIORITIES

My grandmother would say – The needle cannot be sharp on both ends.

If you have an amazing business idea but no capital to start, you need to have the time to learn and build things up – which means hoping for overnight success on no money is not a possibility. Unless you have a massive – universe collapsing upon itself – kind of luck.

In short, what are you willing to sacrifice?

Sacrifice is often glorified or blown up to look like some act of martyrdom – quitting your high-flying job, eating nothing but rice and sauce for the next three months, leaving the country to concentrate on this great big project you’ve had brewing in your head.

While essential, sacrifice doesn’t have to be this big show of things that you give up overnight.

(But if that’s what works for you, make sure you take responsibility for your choices and make arrangements. No one – including your friends and family - will give you leeway if all you’re going to do is, “I’m going to be an artist because my brain is my brain, I’m going to stop doing all the things I’m responsible for because reasons.”)

So what can you do?

The simple answer is – you make the time, regardless of how little, each day to dedicate to your story.

The not-so-simple answer? – let me show you instead.

Photo courtesy of Max Loh.

Photo courtesy of Max Loh.

This is a pic of my fiancé, the Tiger.

By day, he’s a researcher / research corporate executive, but many of us know him by his other self – his comic creation self. Drawing comics since 2003, he continues to be a common name in independent comic events like Comic Fiesta (Malaysia) and Illustration Arts Fest (Singapore).

Our booth at the Illustration Arts Fest 2018.

Our booth at the Illustration Arts Fest 2018.

So how does he do it – given that he has a full-time job, looks after the house, and his parents?

The simple answer? Slowly.

The not-so-simple answer? With intent, commitment, and communication – intent to create something (whether it’s for a project he’s passionate about, for a deadline, for himself), commitment to see it to the end (sense of responsibility), and communication (to the people around him – clients, partners, collaborators, family).

Does it always work smoothly? No. Does he continue with creating despite immense busy-ness? Yes. Does he still get work out? Yes. Does he produce or create as much as he (or his supporters) wants to? No. 

So why?

We’ll talk more about why it’s beneficial to create, regardless of whether it’s for yourself only or a small audience, in a later post. However, my point remains – if your intent to create is there, you owe it to yourself and your creation to make it happen.

Case in point – John Green’s quote.

Other Things to Note

First and foremost, you create for yourself. Sure, there might be times where you create a greeting card from scratch for a friend’s birthday, or draw scenery just for fun. In order for you to get into the mindset of wanting to create, you first need to find satisfaction in your creations. Very much like happiness, pegging your satisfaction in creating something on the expected appreciation of others might not take you very far.

Secondly, you don’t have to follow trends – we’re creating for ourselves first, so it’s important that we believe in, or at least like what we create. Whether you’re just starting out or looking for a way to streamline your creative side with other aspects of your life, it is important for you to find your voice and as difficult as it may be, we should try to not let trends affect us, especially when they’re not of interest to you.

And finally, do remember that it’s okay to not want to create now. Everyone has their own pace when it comes to wanting to create something of their own.

At the same time, if you’re not going to create after wanting to do so for a long time, then when will you?

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What You Can Do / Your Challenge:

1)  Set a goal as to what you want to create. Hot Tip: If you’re specific, it might help motivate you that much better. (E.g. I want to draw a four panel comic about the four seasons in my hometown)

2)  Put aside time for yourself this week – 15-30 minutes a day or every other day should be enough.

3)  Create 1 thing you’ve always wanted to create. And here are some steps if you need rules to get started:

  • Finish.

  • Some know that the piece is finished when they know.

  • Again, this goes back to your goal – did you achieve it fundamentally?

  • And if your story has a beginning, middle, and conclusion, you’re done.

  • If you find yourself not “finishing” because it needs to be perfect, you have finished. Finish.

  • You have not completed step: “Finish” until you’ve finished.

4)  Put it out – Print it and pass it to a friend, read it at an open-mic, put it on your private Facebook / Instagram / Tumblr page, as long as you’re not violating laws or vandalizing.

5)  Take it down whenever you want.

6)  Do steps 1-3 again until you’re okay with sharing your work with whoever you want, including just yourself. Or refine what you’ve created.

Content Download

Or if you want something to track your progress, here’s a download for you to use as you watch yourself inch closer to your finished piece day by day. (Note: There’s a .DOCX and .PDF version - you can choose which tracker format you’d like to use)

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How do you find the time and/or capacity to tell your stories or create, even with a full-time job, family, or side hustle? Do share your experiences in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.